I kept waiting to have the experience. I watched others around me experience it on my behalf, but I had yet to feel it myself. I was beginning to wonder, would I ever feel the relief of ridding cancer?
It has been ten months since my diagnosis. A busy ten months, for sure. Tests. Surgery- boobs gone. Port placed (ouch). Chemo- 16 of ‘em. More surgery- fake boobs placed. Lots more tests. And finally, port removed (ouch again!). And yay! I am FINALLY done. It’s official- I am cancer free.
I kept waiting. My expectation was that I would experience a huge sense of relief, or accomplishment, or overwhelming joy. But it didn’t come.
When I completed that last chemo and the nurses sang to me, sure, I was happy. No more of that chemo stuff is good. But it wasn’t an overwhelming ‘whew, I’m done’ kind of feeling.
And when word came back that my PET scan was clear, I wept with joy. It felt really good knowing that it was no longer in me. But again, I didn’t feel a huge sense of relief, that final exhale releasing all that stuff I’d been carrying.
So I thought, “Well, I’m still going through a lot of tests and doctor’s appointments. Maybe it will come after I finally get my port removed.” The port had become a symbol in my cancer journey. It was placed in my chest where it created a big bulge under my skin that made me feel that I was waiting to be assimilated by the Borg on Star Trek. It served its purpose for sure, carrying drugs to my body without damaging my veins. But it was very uncomfortable and a constant reminder of what we were trying to remove from my body. So the port removal was more exciting to me than getting my breast implants. I thought I would certainly have that sense of relief once it was taken out. But nope. As we drove home from the surgery, I cried a bit because it was such a milestone. But mostly I comforted my husband, who had finally experienced his big sense of relief at the completion of this whole, challenging event.
So I waited.
I began taking the medication I will most likely be taking for the next ten years to ensure that my hormone fed tumors don’t return. The list of side effects from the medication are daunting: nausea, dizziness, hot flashes, mood swings etc. Basically, the medication sends my body into a (second) menopause. Lovely. After several weeks on the medication, I’ve experienced the hot flashes and the moodiness; some low lows, but nothing too new for me. Manageable for sure.
And then one day, it happened. Just like that. It snuck in there just when I least expected. It was during the holiday break and my husband had taken the boys out to a movie. I was busy baking cookies, listening to Christmas music and I glimpsed out my window to catch the most beautiful sunset. It stopped me dead in my tracks.
I. AM. CANCER. FREE.
I am still here. I get to enjoy this beautiful life surrounded by so much love, abundance, joy and laughter. It was a high I hadn’t experienced in such a long time. I was almost giddy. And yes, you know me dear reader, I cried.
And the feeling carried into the next several days. I felt it as I enjoyed dinner with my friends on Christmas Eve. I felt it as I sat back and watched my boys open their presents on Christmas day; there was such a pure sense of peace and joy that day, it is etched in my memory. I felt it as I held my husband’s hand and turned to look into his eyes and caressed his face in a way I hadn’t done in many, many months. And I felt it as I looked in the mirror and saw a reflection of the woman I knew from before. The whole, complete, cancer free woman. Less hair than before, sure. But there I was. I was still here. And I finally, finally felt it.
This must be what I’ve heard others describe who have survived life threatening illness or experiences. Seeing the colors of the world brighter and more radiant and having a new lease on life. For me, it’s showing up a little differently. I’m finding my inspiration again. I feel energized like I did in my thirties as I began my career in Casting. I feel a sense of gumption and chutzpah that’s propelling me forward. I want to live large again. I don’t want to hold back. The Sarah that is pragmatic and practical has diminished, having been replaced with one who wants to take chances.
But I’m unsure if I can trust this. Is this merely a reaction to what I’ve gone through? Could this be a side effect of the medicine? A counter to my low, lows?
I remember having a friend in AA who shared that in the first year of sobriety, he was encouraged not to make any life-altering decisions- like moving to a new state or making big purchases. I wonder if the same holds true for the first year following a brush with mortality?
I guess only time will tell if this is temporary or if the experience of the past nine months has left a permanent mark that is changing the trajectory of my future. I’m aware of a sense of entitlement present that may be affecting my decision making. A kind of attitude that ‘I deserve to get what I want. And shoot, if I’m gonna die, I might as well live the way I want to now’. And that’s the part that I’m unsure if I can trust. After all, my decisions affect my whole family.
Here’s what I do know. Entitlement thoughts aside, I LOVE this feeling. There’s an energy of possibility that I’m riding and it feels really good. It fuels me. It feels like Divine whispers coming through me. It excites me. It motivates me. So for now, I’m gonna ride the wave. I’ll keep following my heart and trust that the Universe will provide and that there are enough check points in place to keep me from going overboard.
Please don’t picture me leaping through a meadow of greens with rainbows and music in the background. These highs are not sustained through every moment of my day. I still experience daily normalcy and challenges. But nowadays it’s like the foundation that my experiences rest on has shifted. My starting point has been raised, if that makes any sense.
So yay to life and love and laughter! Yay to the research that has led to the release of disease in my body. Yay to opportunities, possibility and gentle whispers. Yay to being cancer free.
I am blessed.